The concert genre is always going to suffer from the reality that Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz perfected the form in 1978 just as it essentially created it. But in the hands of a great, or at least passionate filmmaker, there still joy to be had from the concert film.

Witness Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Jonathan Demme's documentary of Young's August 2005 concerts in Nashville to premiere the album Prairie Wind. Demme is not the most consistent of filmmakers, but he's made two well regarded concert films in the past - Stop Making Sense for the Talking Heads and Storefront Hitchcock for Robyn Hitchcock (I haven't seen the latter) - so he's within his comfort zone here. And "comfort" is definitely the name of the game: much like the album it presents, Heart of Gold is entirely unconcerned with radicalism or innovation, instead relying on familiarity to engage the audience. By and large, it works.

The concert itself is a very acoustic affair, although I would have loved to see Young toss in a spontanous "Like a Hurricane" or "Rockin' in the Free World" (even though that song no longer has the slightest relevance politically). When he wraps up Prairie Wind and moves into his hits, it's exactly the list you'd expect - "Old Man," "Heart of Gold," "Comes a Time," "I Am a Child." Despite the reviews proclaiming this a great film for nonfans, I can't believe that it is - the whole affair is squarely based on the notion that you find this music as familiar and comfortable as a well-worn pair of shoes.

It's a fine piece of work, though. Not very long ago, I was having a conversation about cinematographers and I was forced to admit that I was unfamiliar with Ellen Kuras. No longer. I didn't know you could be as precise with lights in a concert scenario as she is here, and it makes the experience less MTV and more (I can't believe I'm typing this) Bergman. Stay with me. Above all else, Heart of Gold's visual style is based on faces; Neil's especially, but also his wife Pegi, Emmylou Harris, Spooner Oldham, etc. Now in his youth Neil Young was - to be frank - ugly. But he's aged well, and while he's not Robert Redford-sexy, he has a distinguished look about him. In particular, there's something about his eyes that is beautiful and expressive (expressive of what changes with each song, but above all it seems to be the horrible sense of, "damn, I'm old..."). Demme and Kuras film that face (all those faces) with an attentiveness and care that I honestly have not seen done so well, so consistently, in any film since Bergman and Nykvist's work in the 1960's.

With that bit of film student prattle out of the way, I can return to my review: this is a fine film. It is not a great film, being of interest only to the Neil Young faithful and Demme completists. But as a concert, it must have been a wonderful experience, and the look in Young's eyes when he talks about losing his father or playing Hank Williams' guitar in Hank Williams' old stomping grounds will likely remain as some of the most haunting images I see in 2006.